Chris leaned his head against the bus window. He was tired but he couldn’t let himself even doze as that would turn into deep, much-needed sleep.
I will tell you at the outset that I have seen some puzzling and imponderable events or situations in my life. That life is now well into its ninth decade. Some of the circumstances were believable, some not; some I wanted to believe, some I didn’t. All of them, each instance, whether believable or not, had been caused or created or somehow set into motion by the attitude or action of generally distinctive and memorable men and women, whether for what they were or what they did, or, in some circumstances, what they did not do. Believe me, the chance of something not happening is oftentimes as much a story as that which happens. My wife Agnes was a woman such as I have spoken, and old acquaintance Tylen Brackus was such a man. As Agnes did things at her own swift command, Tylen also did things; he moved things at appropriate rate, though he was born into this life with but one fully useful arm, the other a mere shaft with a mere hand. His deformity was, as one might say of him, in miniature.
“Hi, is this Mark? Mark Chance from Deakins High School?”
Shane was sitting in front of his laptop. On the screen, an image of two young boys standing in the shade of a half-pipe, their arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders. A date, digitally imprinted in yellow, told Shane the photo was taken the spring of 2006. The boy on the right had a bloody chin and was smiling, pushing his cheeks up and squinting his brown eyes. His hair was black with brown roots and hung past his jaw. Red speckled his white Thrasher shirt. The other threw his head back in laughter, his half-black-half-bleached hair unkempt. This one wore black pants and a black The Clash tee.
“It’s Shane Lynch.”
The tip of the shovel had talked to him with a dull thud, not just through his ears, but totally. It came into his hands and up the stiffness of his arms, through the quick riot of nerves on red alert, through all passageways of recognition. It was wood! At its tip was wood, a cavernous wood, a chesty wood, an enclosing wood. Promise poised itself, much like awards’ night and names to be named. Light leaped at his back, behind his head. Down through the awesome sky of darkness he could feel a star draining, down through thirty-five years of a hole.
During the summer holidays when I was twelve my neighbour shot his three sons. I was at home with my brother when it happened. We were experimenting with a magnifying glass, colouring strips of card with different pigments to see which would burn first under the focussed triangle of sunlight. I remember the sound of the gun was a huge and deep boom. I could feel the concussive force even through the walls of our house. I heard a shot, a scream, two more shots, and then silence. Three shells fired from a breech loaded shotgun, each containing nine double aught spherical pellets, their destructive force expressed onto the children next door. The boys used to play in the yard. I would see them almost every day. They were all younger than me, twins and an elder, one at school. My mother would look after them from time to time when theirs wasn’t well. I tried to teach them how to play cricket.
“You going to the disco on Friday?”
“I dunno. The last one I went to was really bad. I ended up sitting in the toilets waiting for my mum to get me.”
“Why don’t we go? We can meet up before and go there together. It might be good, and we can leave if it’s not.”
“Eh, all right. You come over to mine, like, an hour before. Okay?”
Rita Sajevic lost her mind on home plate at 5:15 pm, two days after dual interviews at competing churches. She’d work the night shift cleaning 11 blocks from home. All this was in shorthand on her palm faded by cherry red ink. On her other palm was a tattoo of a fetus whose life ended tragically. After Rita relived the event, outside of confession mind you, I swore to several saints never to retell that story to anyone.
Bang! It went. Bang! Bang! Bang! A whole series of bangs, like gunshots at a shooting range, echoes coming atop one another, full of alarm and the awful promise of consequence. Eleven-year old George Pearl, twelve before you’d know it, his birthday but an hour or so away, ducked his head as he walked down the dark center road of Riverside Cemetery. Shadows of stones moved around him, angular blocks of darkness set upon darkness, the ground and the shadows giving up other noises steeped with night and night things. Sounds swelled like thermals, unseen but known, catching up what was loose in the air, broadcasting strange messages that he could identify in a split second … fear, catastrophe, disaster, strange hands reaching to touch his backside, strange sounds at his ears. All around were strange things that boomed or blasted or bellowed in the night.
A thousand little Benjies constantly talk in my head. A thousand little creatures speaking, some in subdued almost suppressed and some in apprehensive yet hollow tones, somewhere in my head. They all talk, all of them, together, simultaneously. Shut up, shut up, shut up. They keep repeating those words. Like parrots on cocaine, they keep repeating those words. Blah, Blah, Blah. Tickets please, sir. I was sitting, and the clock went one, then two, then three, then she came picked me up and then we were here and I was sitting again but we were moving. And we are moving, and they are moving, and those are moving, and maybe it was a bicycle and not a bike. Maybe we’re not moving at all, and it’s just my head horsing around. I have liquid memories and container moods, the latter follows shape and the former follows suit. I press my eyes against my palms, and I melt right through. They won’t let me forget. These bastards won’t let me forget.
“Is it fair?”
Those were the last words Eddie said to the man he had thought I was before he drifted back into the only honest sleep of his final days. A smiling sleep caused by my youngest daughter, who did one of the finest things I have ever seen a human being do.
Eddie died yesterday, and his parents have asked me to speak at his “Celebration of Life” this Sunday. I have plenty of harmless Eddie anecdotes to warm hearts and kill ten minutes with. It may be cynical of me to say it, but even though the most timid human being tends to live an R-rated life, few celebrations of such are anything less than family friendly.